‘LIFE: Six Women Photographers’
“Beneath an arc of hanging laundry, a smiling woman stands at her ironing table, surrounded by a singular landscape: rows of beds to be made (thirty-five in all, the caption tells us) piles of folded clothes (250 pieces), a washing machine, a broom, piles of cans of food and bunches of carrots and other vegetables (174 pounds in all) to prepare, 400 pieces of silverware to wash,” writes Carole Naggar. The caption reads, “A week’s work for Marjorie McWeeney is assembled by Bloomingdale’s store.” Valiantly smiling, McWeeney is dwarfed by her surroundings.
The photograph was taken by Nina Leen for a 1947 article for LIFE magazine titled “The American Woman’s Dilemma,” which profiled a selection of women, professionals or homemakers, in a fourteen-page spread. The subhead summed it up: “She wants a husband and she wants children. Should she go on working? Full time? Part time? Will housework bore her? What will she do when her children are grown?” The photographs, which include scenes of McWeeney dressed in various roles—as cook, laundress, nurse, seamstress, chauffeur, housemaid, even “glamour girl”—appear to be a humorous take on the subject from a woman who had herself chosen a full-time career over a life of domestic chores.
Russian-born Nina Leen, who immigrated to New York in 1939, was a contract photographer who joined LIFE’s staff in 1945. She is one of six women photographers featured in an exhibition, now at the New York Historical Society, on how these women’s work “contributed to LIFE’s pursuit of American identity through photojournalism.””
For more information, visit nyhistory.org.
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